Before I arrived on campus this morning, radio station WFDD, the NPR affiliate broadcasting from WFU, announced that 250 Wake Forest students had rolled the Quad upon hearing the news that U.S. forces had killed Osama bin Laden in a firefight in Pakistan.
As any friend of Wake Forest knows, this spontaneous ritual erupts after sports victories. The Sunday night gathering was something else entirely, a rally that marked the end of a major chapter in the cultural narrative that has defined college students’ lives. They are the generation of the post 9/11 era. Their childhoods and coming of age had a code-orange backdrop: the searing images of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and the seemingly endless hunt for the terrorist mastermind.
NBC’s website collected photos and comments from campuses around the country where students celebrated in the middle of the night. Students were tweeting about it today. One photo on the NBC site included a shot from Wake Forest and comments attributed to Katie Crews (’12) of Oxford, N.C.:
“We have a tradition of Rolling our Quad with toilet paper any time a big event happens around campus — such as winning a sporting event. But, tonight, students gathered to sing the “Star Spangled Banner,” “God Bless America,” “Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue,” to chant “USA! USA! USA!”, and to roll the Quad in honor of our troops and in celebration of the big event. God bless the troops and thank goodness for such great news!”
Here’s what Catherine Ambler (’11), of Norfolk, Va., wrote to me in an email about the evening:
“Even as a senior with four years of wonderful Wake memories, last night was one of my most favorite quad memories at Wake Forest. Freshman year I remember racing from either the Joel or South Campus after basketball victories. This time was much different, however. This time began tentatively at 11 p.m. with the announcement that Osama bin Laden was dead. The girls on my hall and I stopped studying and went out from our Kitchin dorm rooms to the Quad, as three lone Wake Forest men ran around with flags draped across their shoulders chanting “USA” and blowing a bullhorn. Slowly, over the next hour, more than 100 students joined the ranks of those three: toilet-paper in-hand, flags draped, spirits high.
“One student even brought a cardboard cutout of George W. Bush, who was passed around for photos amidst the snow-like tree-rolled backdrop.,During the hour I was on the quad, there were three spontaneous “Star Spangled Banner,” two “God Bless America” and one “Proud to Be An American” sing-alongs … It fell on a Sunday night of finals week, and so students were happy for the study break; but it was more than that: it was a time for people of both parties to come together, to honor those who died 10 years ago, to claim a little piece of vindication, to feel proud to be an American, to feel proud of our President and military and, for Wake Forest students in particular, it was finally a time to be able to pull out that TP, waiting on the shelf for a big victory for too long, and celebrate a big win.”
Another student, Liz Keating (’11), told me about the fireworks, the sparklers and the abundance of American flags students waved on the Quad Sunday night. “These were big flags,” she said, fascinated that so many students would be keeping flags at the ready in their dorm rooms. For what purpose, she wondered — until Sunday night.
This morning the toilet paper on the trees rustled in the wind. Students carried their books, resuming their lives as caffeinated crammers for exams. Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill, the significance of the news had not diminished. Some members of the delegation with Wake Forest ties offered their own tributes to mark the occasion. U.S. Senator Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and (’78) called it “the culmination of the greatest manhunt ever undertaken by American forces” and “a major development in our fight against terrorism and proves our resolve to hold accountable those who harm American citizens.” U.S. Senator Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) and (JD ’78), who chairs a Senate subcommittee that oversees special operations forces, said, “I hope this news can bring some peace to our 9/11 families who have waited almost 10 years for bin Laden’s demise. It is a good night for America and the world.” U.S. Rep. Larry Kissell (D-N.C) and (’73), calling bin Laden’s death “a great step in the war on terror,” said, “Those who threaten the life and freedom of American citizens, both here and across the globe, will be found and brought to justice.”